Review petition: Govt to challenge audit of secret funds

PML-N govt has already abolished all secret funds except those maintained by ISI and IB.


Shahbaz Rana August 12, 2013
Govt to challenge audit of secret funds. PHOTO: FILE

ISLAMABAD:


The federal government has decided to file a review petition against the Supreme Court of Pakistan’s judgment to audit secret funds of the country’s prime intelligence agencies.


The review petition is likely to be filed this week as the federal government has already completed the consultation process, said sources in the Ministry of Law, Justice and Human Rights. The decision to file a review petition was taken in a meeting held last week in the Ministry of Finance. The government’s legal brains attended the meeting, the sources added.



In its July 16 judgment on a petition filed by journalists Hamid Mir and Absar Alam seeking abolition of secret funds maintained by the Ministry of Information, the apex court had ordered that all secret funds be audited by the Auditor General of Pakistan (AGP).

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government has already abolished all the secret funds except those maintained by Inter-Service Intelligence Agency (ISI) and the Intelligence Bureau (IB). Through the Finance Act 2013 that the Parliament approved this June, the federal government exempted the secret funds of the ISI and the IB from audit.

The sources said Ministry of Law Secretary Muhammad Raza Khan was of the view that if the federal government did not file a review petition, the apex court’s July 16 decision would attain finality. This would force the government to order the audit of the secret funds, he added.

The sources said the thing that went in favour of the federal government was that the Supreme Court did not strike down the relevant clause of the Finance Act 2013 that exempted the secret service funds from audit.

Further, the SC also has not yet announced its verdict in the IB secret funds case. According to media reports that became the basis for the SC’s suo motu notice, the last PPP government had used the IB secret funds to topple the Punjab government.



The sources said the consultations with government’s legal mind, Federal Minister for Science and Technology Zahid Hamid, were also completed on the review petition. Earlier Hamid was the PML-N government’s federal minister for law but due to his role in the 2007 emergency, imposed by military dictator General Musharraf, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had changed his portfolio.

Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Senator Pervez Rasheed, who is also the federal government’s spokesman, said the details of expenditures of the intelligence agencies were disclosed nowhere in the world. He said the secret funds given to the intelligence agencies were used for protecting national interests.

“The federal government wants to scrutinise the intelligence agencies’ secret funds to avoid any misuse but its mechanism is yet to be determined,” said Pervez.

In its judgment, the court had declared illegal and unconstitutional the Rule 37 (5) of the General Financial Rules (GFR) which exempted secret services funds from independent audit by the AGP.

Authored by Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja, the judgment said all expenditures from the public exchequer must be made in a transparent manner and each rupee must be audited by the AGP in order to ensure compliance with the law.

The judgment said after the 18th Amendment under Article 170 (2) of the Constitution, the AGP enjoyed a strong constitutional mandate to audit all public expenditures without any exception.

It said there might be exceptional circumstances where certain audit information would need to be kept outside the public purview. “If such exceptions are to be claimed these must be through legislation and not in an arbitrary manner. Furthermore, such legislation should be subject to judicial review to ensure compliance with constitutional requirements.”

Separately, while hearing the IB case, the Chief Justice of Pakistan sought an explanation from the federal government over insertion of a clause in the Finance Act 2013 for exempting the funds of the intelligence agencies.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 12th, 2013.

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